Holton Ahlers had plenty of good to go with the bad in his debut Saturday night as the East Carolina starting quarterback.
The stat sheet screamed out big numbers for Ahlers. He completed 29 of 53 passes for 406 yards and a touchdown against 10th-ranked Central Florida.
He was also the Pirate’s leading rusher, gaining 69 yards on 27 carries. Many of those runs were pre-designed blasts up the middle. Ahlers was like a fullback when running the ball. He was also a scrambler at times, and made several big plays off of those scrambles.
There was also the bad. Ahlers had three of ECU’s five turnovers in the game.
The worst of the giveaways came early in the fourth quarter. Ahlers had driven the Pirates on a masterpiece of a drive, starting at their own one-yard line. The ECU offense chewed up 98 yards, all the way to the shadow of the UCF goal line. A touchdown would cut the Knights’ lead to 23-17. That’s when the true freshman tried a Tim Tebow-like jump pass and lost control of the wet ball. UCF defender Nate Evans scooped up the gift and ran alongside a caravan of Knights who celebrated the final 50 yards or so.
It was a crushing blow and defused the Pirates’ threat to stage a come from behind victory. Evans snatched away any chance of a huge upset win and a storybook start for Holton Ahlers.
Still, Pirate fans have to be thrilled with parts of what they saw. Ahlers will only get smarter in his reads and film study going forward.
Pirate head coach Scottie Montgomery was pleased.
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“It was really good,” said Montgomery after the team’s workout on Monday morning. “He had a few freshman mistakes. The one thing that I’ll say is there were a few mistakes that looked like his mistakes. We had some mental errors at our outside positions. And one thing I’ll say is that sense we’ve really done a good job bringing the offense to Holton. Everybody is having to learn a few new things. We talked about how the playbook was going to have to grow in a different direction and we had a few guys that didn’t make as many plays on the perimeter with their minds as they needed to make.”
As for Ahlers he knew there would be bad to go with the good. He’s mature beyond his years, and he knows that games like the UCF game will make him appreciate future wins down the road that much more.
“It was great,” said Ahlers. “It seemed unreal. It seems like a dream. I’ve always dreamed of this as a kid and I’ve always grown up wanting to do that. I remember going to games and imagining that I was Shane Carden. I would imagine that I was one of those guys. And now that I’m here it still hasn’t really hit me.”
Ahlers didn’t back down from the tough questions Saturday night. He was thrown into the media fire and he handled things with maturity and class.
Ahlers says he’s never satisfied and that he knows he has a long way to go.
“You can never stay in the film room too much and you just got to continue to learn and continue to grow as the year goes on and to learn from your mistakes,” Ahlers said.
The Pirates plan on practicing early this week before taking a couple of days off around the weekend with the off date.
ECU will host Memphis a week from Saturday. Then it’s a road game at Tulane before another home matchup with Connecticut.
The Pirates then close out the season with back to back road games. ECU visits Cincinnati on ‘Black Friday’ before heading to Raleigh to play North Carolina State to close out the year.
Ahlers will learn plenty in these final five games of the season.
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